With record deals, fitness videos and even a festival tent, Ministry of Sound has become more than just a nightclub. Tom Phillips meets head of legal Victoria Davies
The glow sticks may have been consigned to the museum of irony, but the music and lifestyle are still as popular as ever. The house music scene has developed an international community of passionate young consumers hungry for CDs and products.
Still at the heart of this fervour after 17 years of DJs, guest lists and sweaty writhing is the Ministry of Sound nightclub, now a £100m company and international brand. The club first opened near Elephant and Castle in 1991, offering no alcohol, a very loud sound system and a strict door policy operated from behind those portcullis iron gates that spawned the well-known logo.
Being the father of house clubs carries considerable weight and over the years Ministry of Sound has successfully captured the imagination of its audience, leading to the creation of MSHK Group – an amalgamation of its best-known brand and Hed Kandi, a ‘funky house’ record label and international club night.
MSHK Group operates four brands: Ministry of Sound, Hed Kandi, Global Underground and Euphoria. All the brands licence guest spots in nightclubs – some internationally – and produce records that sell millions.
“Some people still assume MSHK is just the nightclub, but it’s actually only a small part of our business now,” says Victoria Davies, house music fan and MSHK head of legal and business affairs, who joined the company from commercial radio operator GCap Media in 2007.
In fact, the company has attached its logo to numerous other products, some more surprising than others. It is now possible to buy MSHK hairdryers, fitness videos featuring club dancers, perfume, luggage, hi-fi equipment, a highly-successful festival tent and even vodka.
Davies looks after the legal business for all four brands. Her working day is as varied as the products, and recent jobs include negotiating record contracts with DJs, licensing arrangements for the use of brands and ongoing litigation in Singapore and Miami with licensees that MSHK has accused of breaking agreements.
“We run about 2,000 events around the world and it’s difficult to police all of them – we have to pick our battles carefully,” admits Davies. “Fake CDs are always a problem – they often appear on eBay.”
Davies says protecting the company’s brand from large-scale misuse is essential, but it would not do it any good to come down hard on small misdemeanours by the young community of MSHK consumers that buy into the brands and are creative in the way they use them.
Davies once received a letter from a man who wanted a tattoo of the Ministry of Sound logo on his wrist and wanted to know if he would be breaking any copyright laws.
“I wrote back saying ‘no, but are you sure you want it?’,” Davies laughs.
Having “always wanted” to be a lawyer, Davies got a taste for working at MSHK during a short spell doing work experience as a legal assistant after university. She fell in love with the atmosphere and ethos at MSHK’s modern office, which sits adjacent to the world-famous night club.
In fact, the dance floor of the club is just through the other side of a door in the staff kitchen, giving Davies a job that is a world away from private practice, where she cut her teeth.
“Ministry is my home,” she says. “The people are young and creative – it’s a lot of fun and everyone really cares about the company. That said, the reason we’re still here and lots of other clubs and record labels aren’t is because we’re a tightly run business.”
Davies points to quarterly targets and “serious” appraisals enforced by chief executive James Palumbo. “It’s all about the numbers and the commercial side is very important,” she adds.
Now with a legal assistant to help, Davies has more time to concentrate on the company’s expansion into digital media, having recently released an application available on Apple’s iTunes called iDrum, which allows users to create their own music. She is also working on a YouTube contract to take advantage of MSHK acts such as Basshunter, whose music video has attracted around four million hits to date.
A clubber herself, this is one lawyer for whom the music never stops.
“I love it here,” Davies smiles.
Name: Victoria Davies
Organisation: MSHK Group
Position: Head of legal and business affairs
Reporting to: Chief executive Lohan Presencer
Company turnover: £100m
Number of employees: 120
Total legal capacity: Two
Main external law firms: Dechert, Engel Monjack, Forbes Anderson Free, Lewis Silkin, Russells
Victoria Davies’s CV
1997-2000: University of Manchester
2002-03: College of Law, London
2003-05: Trainee, Harbottle & Lewis
2005-06: Lawyer, GCap Media
2006-07: Senior lawyer, GCap Media
2007-present: Head of legal and business affairs, MSHK Group